Eurasian Criminal Enterprises
We apply the term “Eurasian Organized Crime” to organized crime groups comprised of criminals born in or with family from the former Soviet Union or Central Europe.
These groups operate in numerous countries around the world, including the U.S., where their criminal activities cause hundreds of millions of dollars in losses to U.S. businesses, investors, and taxpayers through sophisticated fraud schemes and public corruption.
History of Eurasian Organized Crime
The roots of Eurasian organized crime in the U.S. lie with the Vory V Zakone or “thieves in law,” career criminals who banded together for support and profit in the Soviet prison system. During the Soviet period, their leaders or “shop managers” were illicitly paid a 30 percent margin to acquire scarce consumer goods and divert raw materials and finished goods from production lines for the benefit of Nomenklatura, or the educated elite, and criminals.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, members allied themselves with corrupt public officials to acquire the control of industries and resources that were being privatized. This gave the syndicate a one-time infusion of wealth and supplied the infrastructure for continuing cash flows and opportunities to launder criminal proceeds.
In February 1993, Boris Yeltsin, the first elected president of the Federation of Russian States, said, “Organized crime has become the No. 1 threat to Russia’s strategic interests and to national security...Corrupted structures on the highest level have no interest in reform.”
Organized crime members first emerged in the West in the 1970s when Soviet Refuseniks were allowed to emigrate to Europe, Israel, and the U.S. Among the Refuseniks were criminals who sought to exploit their new-found freedoms. These criminals helped the major criminal groups expand to the West when the Soviet Union collapsed and the people of the region were able to move about freely.
These groups based in the former Soviet Union have also defrauded newly formed governments of billions of dollars, as industries and resources formerly owned by the government have been privatized. They profit through tax-evasion schemes and using corrupt officials to embezzle government funds.
Their activity threatens to destabilize the emerging political institutions and economies of the former Soviet Union, where nuclear weapons remain deployed. The potential political and national security implications of this destabilization cannot be ignored.
In the U.S., they are heavily involved in healthcare fraud, auto insurance fraud, securities and investment fraud, money laundering, drug trafficking, extortion, auto theft, and the interstate transportation of stolen property. They also are active in human smuggling and prostitution.
To concentrate on the activities of these organized crime groups, the FBI established investigative squads in New York and Los Angeles in 1994, San Francisco in 1995, Miami in 1997, Philadelphia in 1998, and in Newark and Chicago in 1999.
How We Combat Eurasian Organized Crime
The FBI belongs to several international working groups to combat the influence and reach of Eurasian Organized Crime and limit its impacts on all countries.
Eurasian Organized Crime Working Group
Acting under the auspices of the G8, this working group evolved from a group established in 1994. It meets to discuss and jointly address the transnational aspects of Eurasian organized crime that impact member countries and the international community in general. The member countries are Canada, Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, the U.S., and Russia.
Central European Working Group
In 1995, our Eurasian Organized Crime Unit developed the concept and hosted the first meeting of the Central European Working Group at the International . Participants at the first meeting were law enforcement representatives from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Austria and Germany.
This group is part of a project that brings together the FBI and Central European law enforcement agencies to discuss cooperative investigative matters covering the broad spectrum of Eurasian organized crime. A principal concern is the growing presence of Russian and other Eurasian organized criminals in Central Europe and the U.S.
The initiative works on practical interaction between the participating agencies to establish lines of communication and working relationships, to develop strategies and tactics to address transnational organized crime matters impacting the region, and to identify potential common targets.
Within a year, the working group had expanded to include law enforcement agencies and representatives from Romania, the Ukraine, Russia, Israel, Great Britain, and Belgium.
Southeast European Cooperative Initiative
The Southeast European Cooperative Initiative is an international organization intended to coordinate police and customs regional actions for preventing and combating trans-border crime. It is headquartered in Bucharest, Romania, and has 12 fully participating member countries. The U.S. has been one of 14 countries with observer status since 1998.
The initiative’s center serves as a clearing house for information and intelligence sharing, allowing the quick exchange of information in a professional and trustworthy environment. The initiative also supports specialized task forces for countering trans-border crime such as the trafficking of people, drugs, and cars; smuggling; financial crimes; terrorism; and other serious trans-border crimes.
The 12 member countries are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Slovenia, Serbia/Montenegro, and Turkey. The observers are Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Canada, France, Georgia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.